Evita is at The Kings, Southsea, with The Voice star Lucy O’Byrne as the Argentinian icon

Lucy O'Byrne stars as Eva Peron in Evita, at The Kings Theatre, November 2018. Picture by Pamela Raith
Lucy O'Byrne stars as Eva Peron in Evita, at The Kings Theatre, November 2018. Picture by Pamela Raith

Lucy O’Byrne is no stranger to the part of Eva Peron. But her current appearance in the lead role of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s hit musical Evita, is going rather better than her first attempt to make it into the show.

‘We have quite a lot of supernumeraries in the show, they’re in some of the really large crowd scenes – it makes the company look huge – extras effectively. They’re usually a local amateur dramatics society or school or something.

‘When it came to Dublin and I was in secondary school, they had forgotten to tell the local Dublin supers that there was a weekday matinee, and I got a phonecall from one of my friends saying they need people to come in this afternoon, what are you doing? I said I was probably going to be at school, but I grew up in the theatre, so my parents said, no that’s cool, go do it.

‘We went into town –  all we were told to bring was red lipstick and a pair of tights, so we arrived at the door and were told that a drama school had just arrived so they didn’t need us, but they did give us free tickets to the show!

‘Then I ended up playing Eva later in college as my final show – that was only five performances and now we do eight a week.’

Produced by theatrical impresario Bill Kenwwright, the current tour sees Lucy really getting to grips with the woman who rose from poverty to be Argentina’s beloved first lady.

But having already starred as Maria in Kenwright’s production of The Sound of Music, there was some resistance in casting her as the South American icon.

‘They hadn’t actually wanted to see me for Evita. Me and my agent had to really push for it – they were like, no, she’s Maria Von Trapp. Maria and Eva are too different, and she’s our Maria.

‘Eventually they said yes, and it was literally,’ she affects a weary tone, ‘”Okay, fine, come in and sing”.’

Although she was due to audition for the show’s producers, Kenwright himself walked into the offices while she was waiting, not knowing she was coming in, and invited her up to his office.

‘Usually you don’t do that, it’s only after singing for the producers three or four times. But I know Bill from having done Sound of Music for so long, and I’m thinking: “So, the first time I’m ever going to be singing this material is going to be for you…”

‘It just went from there and we had a really nice afternoon to be honest. It wasn’t as intense or as terrifying as the Sound of Music audition. It was lovely.’

Lucy first came to national attention as the runner-up on the 2015 series of BBC One’s The Voice, where she was mentored by Black Eyed Peas’s will.i.am And unlike some former TV singing show contestants, Lucy emerged unscathed from it all.

‘I only look back on it with a smile. It was a wonderful, wonderful experience, and it completely changed my life.

‘I’m not going to try and hide that or deny it – that’s exactly what it did. I went on it to try and get an audition for a show, and that’s what happened, and then I got another show from that.

‘I owe kind of pretty much a lot of this that I have now to it, as well as what it gave me – I made amazing friends I’m still in contact with, with the other contestants, with the production team.

‘I met some incredibly talented people – I met legends! I had regular conversations with Tom Jones, actual conversations. And will.i.am, I grew up listening to the Black Eyed Peas, and forever on my phone, because I’m that much of a loser,’ she laughs, ‘I will have a picture of me leaning up against will.i.am while he’s singing into my microphone over my shoulder.

‘Three years later I still think did that really happen?’

‘And I owe it to the people who voted to keep me there. That’s one of the nice things about touring, I meet people still who say they voted for me and I can say “thank you” to them for taking the time to do that.’

Now though, she is looking forward to returning to Southsea.

‘I did three separate outings with The Sound of Music, but I keep coming back for more, so I obviously must be enjoying it. Now I’m on a different show I’m coming back to theatres I’ve been to before – I was at The Kings only back in March. It was our second last venue on The Sound of Music tour and we had such a nice time there.

‘There’s so many nice little coffee shops and things like that around by the theatre, and me and one of the girls went to see the Mary Rose and the museums around there, it was fascinating. And the theatre was fab too - it’s gorgeous.’

EVITA

The Kings Theatre, Southsea

November 13-17

kingsportsmouth.co.uk